The year is coming to a close, and in less than a week, 2011 will be no more than a memory. As we set our resolutions and prepare for the next chapter in our lives, many of us will be reflecting on the past year and the events that defined it – both for ourselves and society. For Earmilk, every year is defined by the music it brings to the table. We live and breath music over here, celebrating it to the highest extent as well as scrutinizing it to the finest detail. The beautiful thing about music is that unlike memories, music will never fade away. It has been a fundamental part of our world for ages now, and will be until the end of time. To cap the year off, Earmilk has put together a list of our top albums in Hip-Hop, Electronic and Indie music. Each list was put together by a collective group of our writers in their respective genres who worked feverishly to create a set of albums that we consider the best of 2011 – not necessarily the most popular albums, nor the most successful albums, but the albums that we as experts found iconic for the artist, the genre, or our readership. We recognize that you may feel one way or another about this list, an album within it, or an album left out – so we encourage you to leave feedback in the comments below and rave about how disappointed you are that Justin Bieber’s new album isn’t #1 on the list.
Two days ago we presented to you numbers 20-11 of our top Indie albums of the year, featuring artists like Foster The People, Jhameel, LUM and Austra, and now we present to you the Top 10. These albums all received remarkably high scores from our entire Indie department, and the top 3 wound up with perfect ratings. For indie lovers like ourselves, 2011 spoiled us rotten, and while many indie icons released new albums (The Black Keys, Beirut, Bon Iver, Florence + The Machine, etc.), due to the amount of stellar new acts that debuted this year, we decided to leave the already established bands off this list. We were introduced to so many talented debut acts in 2011 that if we didn't choose this plan of action we'd feel as if we were snubbing a good amount of well-deserving new artists. The list is comprised of artists that made their mark in 2011, and while a few of these albums are by artists who have released works earlier than this year, each album served as a break-out production for the artists involved. With countless hours devoted to finding the latest in distinguishable, taste-making music, our hope is that these posts help remind you as our readers of albums you should have acquired, as well as introducing you to the many essentials you may have missed over the year.
Over half of 1,2,3's New Heaven are instant go-getters. “Confetti”, “Work”, and “Riding Coach” grab onto us like caramel slowly melting down our throats. It is a tasteful process that’s not worth rushing over. Tracks on New Heaven have a potent raw chorus with the backings of foot tapping drums. 1,2,3 use these indie rock elements to their full advantage because we are certainly hooked. — Briana (Banacrisp)
Originally named Gobble Gobble, but later switched to the now familiar Born Gold, this Canadian electro-pop outfit remained low under the radar following the release of their debut LP Bodysongs. From album opener "Alabaster Bodyworlds" all the way to the abrupt ending in the appropriately named "Early Birthday", Born Gold keeps up the pace throughout the album with their lightning quick songs and hyperactive, electronic instrumentals that never cease to take a break. Noise-pop, electro-pop, hyper-pop, or whatever label you may throw at Bodysongs, Cecil Frena does a fantastic job in keeping the composure of Bodysongs while making sure we keep this LP on repeat. 2011 was a quiet year for Born Gold, but Bodysongs is a great look into what the band will offer in the near future. — Chris
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a professional athlete who drives in circles. Dale Earhardt Jr. Jr. is a band who will leave your head spinning… in circles. There’s a joke somewhere in there, but I digress. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. is an indie rock band from Detroit with an incredibly fun name and equally pleasing sound. They’ve been known to perform in a Nascar-themed setup, and their debut album, It’s A Corporate World, takes a direct (and much appreciated) stab at the clusterfoul that we all are too well aware of. But behind the goofy personas and political ambition lie two simple, sweet artists. Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott have brought to life an indie rock/pop band like so few others. Even at their least impressive, the duo set themselves above the rest with their personable voices and enthusiasm.
It’s A Corporate World is a collection of catchy tunes and organic rock that is brought to life by electronic synths and harmonious vocals. The record quickly dismisses all preconceived notions about the duo with “Morning Though”, a track that sets the tone for the rest of the album with its uptempo feel. “We Almost Lost Detroit” is an anthematic masterpiece that builds up to each chorus, while “Simple Girl” is a simple song bolstered by melodic whistling that speaks to almost any guy out there who’s met the perfect girl but can’t really understand her. The album as a whole is incredibly pleasing to the ear, and is a step up from their debut EP Horse Power. — Ronnie
Cults made their debut last year with the release of their catchy and sun-filled track "Go Outside". Since its release, "Go Outside", to many, became a summertime anthem that ringed in windowless cars, radios, and even in commercials. Despite the song's overwhelming success, Cults kept their cool once their self-titled debut Cults came out to play this past June. Madelin Follin's youthful voice fills the album with a tone that shifts from playful ("Go Outside") to aggressive ("Never Heal Myself"). Follin's lyrics are simple, but carry the theme of teenage angst by touching on loneliness ("You Know What I Mean"), heartbreak ("Abducted"), and the will to escape ("Oh My God"). With a sound compared to the music recorded by early 1960s girl-groups, Cults is an evenly paced album that is filled with sweet melodies and a splash of California beach pop. At just under 30 minutes, Cults is a debut album that reflects this young indie-pop band's overwhelming potential. — Chris
On May 3, 2011, SNOWMINE released a compilation that made the world a better place. The tribal blithe from this Brooklyn band’s musical devices easily earned Laminate Pet Animal a spot high on our top 10 list. The album has a cohesive flow that anyone can agree possesses healing powers. The entire collection soothes our lack of rhythmic pains. From the tropical drums in “Beast in Air, Beast in Water” to the atmospheric synths in “This One”, Laminate Pet Animal dives comfortably into pop ambiance. SNOWMINE does the job of feeding us jungle beats on one track while delivering psychedelic warmth on another. For a greater effect of this album, play it more than once. Many of us, however, have already subconsciously done it. — Briana (Banacrisp)
Keeping their press time limited and work a mystery, not much was initially known prior to the release of World United Lucifer Youth Foundation's (WU LYF) debut LP. Once Go Tell Fire To The Mountain reached the public, however, the curtain was raised, and we were hit with a surprising release from a band that seem to have come out of nowhere. Produced entirely in a church, WU LYF's instrumentals are greatly enhanced and tailored to precise specification to produce the band's signature sound. In "We Bros," each cymbal crash, bass kick, and guitar riff echoes through the church, giving a brilliant platform for the collection of voices screaming "We bros!/We bros!" to close out the song. Go Tell Fire To The Mountain, at its core, is a 47-minute, well-composed album aimed at uniting fans who sing along with frontman Ellery Roberts in giving the middle finger to the "the system," and does so with a majestic sound and fiery passion that leaves us wanting more. — Chris
WU LYF – "Dirt"
When an album never requires a song to be be skipped, instead captivating you with each moment, each line, the album has achieved a melodic perfection that is hard to come by in this day and age. Benjamin Francis Leftwich's Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm is a masterpiece, immediately relaxing and infinitely beautiful.
The album opens with "Pictures" (part of the Pictures EP released in March that helped gain Benjamin exposure), a song that touches base with some of the hardest moments in life, and guides you on with a way to deal with them. Benjamin's lyrics never shy away from the brutal reality of life, yet somehow manage to bring light into the darkest of situations. A step forward from his previous two EPs, Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm is a true example of what an artist can do when they spend multiple years working on an album — not to mention this is his debut album, and it's better than most of the discs in my iTunes library.
Benjamin began working on the album four years ago, starting off with a few songs here and there. Over the course of those four years he released a few videos and two EPs leading up to the release of his debut album in early May. Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm takes you out of the chaos that surrounds us and gently puts you down in a room of tranquility. The album is one of the best I've heard in years and Benjamin Francis Leftwich is an example of a singer/songwriter at its best. Do yourself a favor and buy the album online and support this up-and-coming talent.
Youth Lagoon is the reflective project of 22-year-old Boise, Idaho, native Trevor Powers. In his debut album, The Year of Hibernation, Powers creates an intimate world filled with heartbreak and nostalgia that enchants us from beginning to end. Throughout the album, Powers sings with a far-off voice that calls out to us as the sound of reverbed synths and soft pianos echoes in the foreground.
With an ear for arrangement, Powers masterfully builds up his songs from nothing but mere whispers to full-fledged anthems. In "July", the sound of Powers' distant vocals gradually grows louder alongside a string of single-hitting piano keys as the song concludes with an series of uplifting "oh, oh, ohs."
The intimacy found throughout The Year of Hibernation is characterized by Powers' powerful writing. As he shares his account of anxiety-filled afternoons ("Afternoons") and heartbreak ("July"), Powers engrosses us with emotional lyrics that strike to the core. In "17", Power sings, "When I was 17/My mother said to me/'Don't stop imagining/ The day that you do is the day that you die…,'" as a reminder for himself to keep imagining and creating.
With each passing song, The Year of Hibernation offers a glimpse into Powers' emotional experience leaving us with an album that allows our minds to wonder while our bodies explore the world outside. — Chris
Youth Lagoon – "Montana"
It may seem a bit odd that we chose a six-track EP as our top new album of 2011 – and believe me, we spent a long time discussing this, as each of our top three albums received perfect scores from our indie department – but when it comes down to it, Oliver Tank’s Dreams EP HAS to be #1. Written and recorded in his bedroom and at uni, Dreams (released through Yes Please Records) could serve as a poster child for indie music. There are few albums, let alone EPs, that hold the ability to twist one’s emotions in such a delightfully melancholic manner. The album is a combination of lo-fi, dreamwave and electronica, sewn together seamlessly over six tracks of soothing ambiance. It ignites the very fabric of one's personal burdens, shatters their foundations, and leaves the recipient feeling humbled and refreshed.
Growing up on a diet of tapes his parents had collected, the Australian native’s early musical exposure came from artists like Simon & Garfunkel and Michael Jackson, and the first record he purchased was Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavoured Water by Limp Bizkit. I mention this only because there is almost no similarity between this EP and any of those artists. The idea Oliver had behind the EP was one many artists aspire towards, but few succeed at executing – creating something original. The album sounds like a side project James Blake and Jose Gonzalez would have done together. The opening track “Up All Night” is incredible — there is not a single track I can think of that is so simple yet can have such a profound impact on the listener, and it serves well as a testament to the genius that lies behind the entire album. Creating something so simple while making it so memorable is, in many ways, harder than anything else because each note – each beat – is much more important due to its isolation within the composition. This marvelous simplicity is one of the aspects of the album that sets it apart from the rest on this list. There is no room for error because there is nothing there to distract the listener from even the subtlest of mistakes.
Each track exhibits some form of downtempo-esque beats that sound as if they came straight out of Kruder & Dorfmeister’s jukebox. The sophomore track on the album, “Embrace (Feat. Fawn Myers)”, is no less impressive than the flagship track, and the chimerical harmony between Oliver and Fawn in both this and the final track is breathtaking. Yet perhaps the most incredible part of the album is the variety of ways Oliver utilizes auto-tune. Whether it’s a simple tweak to a vocal or a complete transformation, the EP provides an example of auto-tune used correctly. “Last Night I Heard Everything In Slow Motion” warps the track’s vocals in a way that helps build the track up to its grandiose finish, with out define the track by the auto-tune — something I wish so many other artists could grasp how to do.
Oliver Tank has plans for a new EP in 2012, as well as a few singles he will be releasing through Earmilk, so stay tuned for more from him. — Ronnie
This is part of a two-part post, so give a look at
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